Dayhiking the Kal-Haven Trail

Two years we trained for this particular very long hike, without getting it together to make the trip to Kalamazoo during the few summer weeks when the days are long enough to through-hike the Kal-Haven Trail in a day. This year we made it happen.

Two years we trained for this particular very long walk, without getting it together to make the trip to Kalamazoo during the few summer weeks when the days are long enough to through-hike the Kal-Haven Trail in a day. This year we made it happen.

At the trailheadWe meant to be at the trailhead by dawn which was 6:05 AM, but breakfast and final checking of gear took a little longer than we’d hoped. It was almost one hour later when we posed for pictures in front of the sign. We were walking just a few minutes later. Jackie started Endomondo at 7:06.

My brother, Steven Brewer, had offered to drive support, and did a great job. He drove us to the trailhead, met us at four or five points along the way to provide fresh, cold bottles of water, laid out a sumptuous, bounteous feast for lunch, and took pictures along the way. (He has written his own account of the walk.)

We made excellent time through the morning, clocking out a whole series of sub-18-minute miles, and reached Gobles a few minutes before noon.

The crushed limestone surface was great—smooth, level, hard enough for efficient walking, gentler than concrete. (There was one stretch in Bloomingdale that had been resurfaced with asphalt, which was much harder on the feet.)

photo_18363558004_oThere was one downside to the surface, though. Almost as it it were designed that way, my tread caught the limestone and pitched it forwards into my boots. I had to stop every few miles and shake a teaspoon of limestone grit out of my boots.

Still great for walking on, and kinda pretty.

I had made sandwiches, and Steven had gotten all sorts of stuff to go with them—german potato salad, red bananas, hummus, flat bread, raspberries, raw veggies, and brownies for desert.

Trailside FeastBehold our awesome lunch, served trailside, complete with cloth napkins.

It took some minutes to loosen up after we got started going again, but we were almost matching our pace, carrying on with sub-20-minute miles right along until we hit mile 25.

I was still feeling pretty good then. We had slowed down a bit, but as we passed mile 27, I tweeted, “Has blown through marathon distance and is pressing for 33.5 miles. South Haven here we come!”

Pretty much just about then, though, I started dragging a bit. We had walked farther than we’ve ever walked before, and the last few miles were tough.

We pressed on, walking at perhaps a 22-minute pace. Jackie held up better than I did, as you can perhaps tell from this picture, taken very close to the end of the trail. Steven had suggested that we smile, and both Jackie and I did our best:

Approaching South HavenAt that point it was merely a matter of trudging on. We wrapped up at 33.41 miles as measured by Endomondo, and Steven popped us into the car and drove us to the restaurant for a celebratory feast.

At about that point, my body seemed to have lost the ability to thermoregulate—I was shivering so hard my teeth were chattering in the slightly cool air of the South Haven evening.

Jackie wrapped her arms around me to keep me warm, and Steven got this picture as well:

18964591362_299df20f06_oAfter a good night’s sleep, a big breakfast, and a nap after lunch, I think we’re all largely recovered. I stiffen up a bit if I sit still, but am not really even very sore. In the morning we got out to play Ingress, and I was able to walk around pretty much as usual. I’ll take at least one more day off before I go for a run, but basically I feel fine.

We have no plans for even longer walks, but we’ll certainly keep walking, perhaps expanding to multi-day through-hikes of the sort where your gear is schlepped for you from B&B to B&B.

It was a great experience!

Our last few tune-up hikes

We’ve decided not to do another even longer walk before we do the big hike of the Kal-Haven trail. (Coming up later this month!)

I’d had it in my head that we’d do a 30-mile walk, but the more I thought about it, the less it appealed. Mainly, it seemed like it would make the main event less special. (“Oh. We walked 3.5 miles longer than our longest training walk. Big deal.”)

We will do one more walk of close to marathon distance, somewhere in the 20–25 mile range, but besides that, we’ve been doing some shorter walks of a more rugged nature, hoping to address some deficiencies that cropped up on the marathon-length walk.

In particular, I noticed that toward the end of really long walks, my hips get tired and seem kind of wobbly when I walk over uneven ground. I thought one way to address that, besides doing more longer walks, would be to find some especially uneven ground to hike on. That’s why we went to Fox Ridge and later to Forest Glen—the trails would let us get in some longish walks with some slightly different sources of stress than just more longer.

Today we hiked at Allerton Park, doing a bit over 6 miles of some not-too-rugged trails. We’d had it in our heads to do 6 more miles on the other side of the Sangamon River, but decided to skip it due to schedule constraints—we would have had to rush to get home in time to got to my Esperanto meeting and the farmers market this evening.

Besides the hike, we also took half an hour or so to do some taiji in the Fu Dog garden. That was very nice.

Once again, I got to put my parkour practice to use.

There’s a path that leads—used to lead—to the back of the mansion, and there used to be an iron spiral staircase that got you up to the top of a retaining wall the separates the grounds (at one level) from the steep slope down into the forest and the Sangamon.

We hiked up that trail—what’s left of it—only to find that the iron staircase has been removed.

The wall there would be beyond our capability to climb, but just around the corner (separating the mansion grounds from the pond), the wall is shorter—about chest high.

It’s been a long time, but I just did what I would have done as a boy facing a wall of that height—I put my palms on it, then jumped up high enough that I had enough leverage to go ahead and push myself up onto the wall.

Jackie found that she couldn’t jump high enough to get to where she could push herself on up, so she reached over the top of the wall to where she could hook her fingers over the far side. Then she just scrabbled up as best she could, her boots sliding on the bricks, but catching enough that she managed to get herself up onto the wall.

We were both pretty pleased with ourselves. I doubt if we could have climbed that wall five years ago.

I neglected to get a picture of the wall from today, but here’s a picture from a few years ago, looking across from the far side of the pond (click to embiggen):

allerton mansion retaining wallWe were way over on the right, and our climb was from just above the pond. (There are two walls there. We just climbed the lower wall. There’s a path at that level, and then a second retaining wall up to the level of the mansion grounds proper.)

On an unrelated note, today seemed to be Path Crossing Day for the snails. I scarcely took a step down the path without seeing a snail.

Here’s the first snail I spotted:

trail snail at allerton parkIsn’t he a handsome fellow?

Achievement unlocked: Marathon distance

Over the past three years, Jackie and I have done a lot of walks where the distance came in at around 20 miles, but we’d never actually reached 26.2. Yesterday we did.

In many ways, this was just another training walk for our planned Kal-Haven trail walk—which is why we hadn’t hit this distance before: We’re much more concerned with not hurting ourselves before the big walk than we are with hitting any arbitrary distance in advance.

Still, I’m glad to have finally walked 26.2 miles, because now I don’t have to feel like an imposter when I wear my rain jacket:

me-in-marathon-rain-jacket
Me in my marathon rain jacket. Photo by Jackie Brewer.

I got this jacket long ago—at least 15 years ago, maybe longer. I remember finding a gore tex rain jacket in the Sierra Trading Post catalog at about an 80% discount. I think it was so cheap mostly because it doesn’t have a hood, which is a deficiency for a rain jacket, but the large marathon graphic on the back may also have put off some people who were not marathoners.

I snapped one up immediately. Only after I had secured mine did I share the catalog with a friend at work who I thought would also be pleased with a cheap gore tex jacket. (He bought one too. For years we were occasional twinsies on warm rainy days.)

All these years it has been my main rain jacket, and all that time I’ve been just a little uncomfortable wearing a jacket so prominently marked as being for marathoners. Now, finally, I can quit worrying about it.

We were walking rather than running, so we were on the road a long time—almost ten and a half hours. (The people who win marathons run them in a little over 2 hours; middle-of-the-pack runners tend to finish in 3–4 hours.)

It was a great walk, although we were feeling pretty tired the last few miles. We went up to our old neighborhood and walked around our old apartment complex. (It looks a bit more empty than when we were there.) We walked up the Greenbelt Bikeway, then headed east to our summer place. (It looks exactly the same as it did when we lived there last year.) Then we walked through the water amenities at Second Street, and onward to Busey Woods. Then down Race Street to Orchard Downs and across through the arboretum and the research park. We went north to Florida to cross the railroad tracks, then headed south along the Boulware Trail and on into Savoy. We went west just a bit to take the path along Prospect down to Curtis and thence to home, taking a slightly long route through Winfield Village (with a tiny diversion into our prairie) to be sure we hit the target mileage.

In the end we went 26.4 miles. Here’s the Endomondo data:

More long walks

Jackie and I have continued to work up toward being able to take our planned very long walk in mid-June.

Our previous outing was planned for 15 miles, but we actually did about 17. For yesterday’s outing we came closer to hitting our target distance—planned for 20 miles and came in at 20.61 miles.

It was a pretty good walk. The temperature was a bit cool, but stayed steady for the duration, so we weren’t having to adjust clothing repeatedly.

We walked through Robeson Park and then to our old neighborhood where we had lunch at El Toro. Then we went up the Greenbelt Bikeway and visited our old garden plot near Parkland College. Then we angled our way to downtown Champaign, passing near both our summer place and our winter palace, pausing for coffee at Pekara Bakery. Finally, we walked to the University of Illinois Arboretum (where the cherry trees were just blooming) and then headed home through south campus and the research park.

We held up pretty well, perhaps because the distance was only 3 miles beyond our previous long walk. My plan is that we’ll do 26.2 miles for our next walk, sometime towards the end of April, but we’ll see how things go. We have time in our schedule if we want to take that jump in two steps.

We haven’t been getting in as many of the medium walks as I’d hoped, mostly because of problematic early-spring weather. With the weather shifting to more of a late-spring pattern, I’m hoping that won’t be a problem going forward.

One thing I’d like to do is start including some faster miles in those medium-length walks. We can walk fast enough, but we tend to slow down late in the walk. That’s fine, but if we have very many miles at 20+ minutes per mile, it will make for a very long day on the Kal-Haven trail.

Here’s the details on this walk:

And here are the details for the previous one:

Jock or geek

Jackie recently expressed a concern related to my expanding interest in fitness: “We were both nerds together at Motorola, but now you seem to be turning into a jock.”

I assured her that she was mistaken, pointing out that I have no new interest in team sports, nor in spectator sports—two key markers for jocks in my mind.

But I did see how she might be concerned. I was putting a lot of time, effort, and attention into this fitness stuff. I was also writing about it and taking about it a lot. (Enough that I felt I had to move some of the writing to my Esperanto-language blog, where it would bore fewer people.)

Most recently, I’ve been looking at some Natural Movement stuff, in particular at MovNat. They have roots in the same source as parkour, but without the urban bias. They also have a broader perspective—parkour is all about getting from point A to point B, dealing with obstacles as efficiently as possible. MovNat is about rediscovering a broader range of human movement skills—not just running, jumping, climbing and balancing, but also throwing and catching and swimming and diving and fighting.

Aware of the fact that I’m in that brief phase where some new thing is all shiny and interesting, I try not to spend all my time talking about it, but I still talk about it enough to bore any ordinary person. (Jackie recently let me go in for some minutes about one of these things and then said, “You should write something about this on your Esperanto blog!”)

Yesterday, while we were out on our long walk, I was once again going on about this or that aspect of movement skills. Jackie listened patiently, then said, “I take it back. You’re not turning into a jock. You’re becoming a geek about parkour.”

We were both reassured.

Another long walk

Today was our nicest day of the year so far, and Jackie wanted to do another long walk, so that’s what we did.

It seemed kinda early for a long walk, just 4 days after our last long walk. It was also kinda soon after my little parkour adventure yesterday. But the weather was great.

I had rather expected to be too sore after yesterday’s parkour—and I had noticed in the night that my core muscles were pretty sore.

Did you know that your core muscles are critical to turning over in bed? If not, I invite you to spend an hour on quadrupedal motion, precisions, and vaults, after which (unless you’re already a highly trained traceur) I’m confident you’ll be able to observe the fact for yourself. But when I got up, I discovered that I was otherwise fine. My feet, ankles, knees and hips were all fine, as were my calves and thighs. So, if Jackie wanted to do a long walk, I was okay with that.

We did it on kind of a whim, so we didn’t have a route planned, but that was fine: We just winged it. Today was a taiji day, so we started by walking to taiji. After taiji we walked to campus, where we decided to eat at Ambar India on campus—it’s a buffet, so we wouldn’t have leftovers to deal with. Then we walked to the Nutritional Food Store, the only place we know of to get freshly ground peanut butter. Then we walked home.

It came in at just under 13 miles, but we were tired enough and sore enough to not want to walk another couple of miles around home just to hit the 15-mile mark. We’ll do that later in the month, closer to the planned time. (Instead we sat out on the patio and drank beers. It was the first day warm enough for patio sitting this year, and we enjoyed it a lot.)

Here’s the details on the walk:

Running, walking, etc.

I went for my first outdoor run of the year on Sunday. It was the first day that the paths were clear enough of ice and snow to make it possible.

Although the paths were mostly clear of ice and snow, there was a lot of melt water, flowing across the path in hundreds of rivulets. I found myself integrating into my run hundreds of small leaps, in a (partially successful) effort to keep my feet dry.

I was well aware of the leaps as I did them—I remember making a conscious effort to refrain from favoring one side over the other, trying to execute each leap with the most natural foot leading, based on my current point in my stride as I approached.

For some reason, all those leaps were not the first thing that came to mind the next day, when my calves were as sore as they have ever been. I was just sad at how much more out-of-shape I must be than I had realized, to be so crippled by a simple three-mile run. (They hurt a lot more than when I actually tore a calf muscle a couple years ago.) It was only late Tuesday, when I was heading to teach my taiji class, that I jumped over a similar stream of water in a parking lot—one calf screaming when I launched, the other screaming when I landed—that I realized that it was the leaping that had done such a number on me.

With that reassurance I felt much better, and by Wednesday my calves were feeling much better, which was good because Wednesday Jackie and I went on our first long walk of the year, part of the series of long walks we’re taking to prepare for the 33.5-mile Kal-Haven Trail walk that we’ve been meaning to take for a couple of years now. We’re quite determined that this will be the year.

For our first long walk we walked to taiji, attended our class, and then walked on to downtown Urbana and had lunch at Crane Alley (good beer). After lunch we walked back through campus. Having exceeded our planned distance (we wanted to do 10 miles and got in 11.5), we caught a bus at the south end of campus to go the rest of the way home. (The walk home from the south end of campus isn’t far, but there’s no good footpath. I think during the summer, when it’s possible to walk along the side of the farmer’s fields, it’ll be a fine walking route, but yesterday it would have been too wet and muddy.)

It was warm enough that I was able to expose my forearms to the sun!

My training plan, such as it is, covers just the long walks—we’ll include many shorter walks in our daily activity, and plenty of medium walks as well. But the long walk plan looks like this:

  • first-half March: 10 miles — done
  • second-half March: 15 miles
  • first-half April: 20 miles
  • second-half April: 26.2 miles (because why not?)
  • first-half May: 30 miles

The main event is planned for roughly June 18th, but it will depend on the exact schedule of when we go to visit my dad and what the weather looks like those days. I figure we’ll be fit enough to do a very long walk of the planned distance any time after mid-May, so that gives us a month’s cushion to allow for any glitches.

I’m kind of excited about possible medium-length walks from our new house, here south of town. All of south campus is reasonably close, including, for example, the Arboretum with its cherry trees, which should be in bloom in about a month. It might make sense to walk there several times in early April, to keep up with the progress of the cherry blossoms, and take the opportunity for both haiku and photographs.

The most obvious way to walk (starting with the exact route from south Campus that I rejected yesterday) would be about 3 miles each way, the first half along the sides of country roads. As I say, it should be an entirely satisfactory route anytime the ground isn’t too wet.

Here’s the details for Sunday’s run:

And here’s the details for Wednesday’s walk:

Projects for winter and spring

We have a bunch of things we’re hoping to do this year, and most of them require some amount of preparation—preparation which will have to occur in the winter and spring.

My plans stretch out to the end of July, because the last week of July I’ll be in Lille, France to attend the 100th Universala Kongreso de Esperanto.

As preparation for that, I really want to spend half an hour almost every day practicing my Esperanto. That should be plenty—I already read and write the language and I’ve attended international Esperanto gatherings in the past. But just a bit of practice listening to spoken Esperanto (podcasts and such) and a bit of practice actually conversing (with my local Esperanto group, and such other folks as I can find) will go a long way toward making attending this kongreso a rich and satisfying experience.

About a month before that will be the solstice, and right around then—second half of June or very early July—is the only good chance do the Kal-Haven trail walk that we’ve hoped to do each of the last two years. (In those weeks because only then are the days long enough to finish the walk in daylight.)

As preparation for that, we need to go on several walks each week, including a very long walk roughly every other week, working our way up to being able to walk the 33.5 mile trail.

Several months earlier—just one month from now—we’re going to have a little party for people to come see our townhouse. We’ve fixed the date as February 1st, and are thinking of it as a celebration of Groundhog’s Day Eve, or  Imbolc, if you prefer. Invitations are forthcoming. If you don’t get one, it is surely an oversight—let me know.

As preparation for that, we need to finish unpacking!

Without a specific deadline, but very soon now, I want to finish revising my novel so I can get it out to first readers.

As preparation for that, I need to spend an hour or two every morning writing.

Normally at this time of year we’d also be planning our garden, but Jackie has convinced me that working a garden plot this summer will be more than we can manage.

Yesterday’s very long walk: 23 miles

jackie-phil-giant-rabbit
With giant rabbit sculpture in Meadowbrook Park.

We’re just about there. The Kal-Haven trail is 33.5 miles, and yesterday we walked 23.3.

My plan had been “more than 20,” and we managed that, although we went a bit over.

It turns out to be surprisingly hard to plan a route with a very specific distance, if you want the route to be interesting. (It would be easy enough if you were willing to just map about a 2-mile loop and walk it 10 times.)

We did pretty well in the past using Google Maps to plan a route, entering waypoints and then going in and tweaking Google’s suggested route to match what we knew we were going to want to do. I did that again, but with a walk this long, I ran into some limits I don’t remember hitting before. In particular, there seems to be a 10-waypoint limit, and those “tweaks” to the route seem to use up waypoints. I don’t know if that wasn’t true with the old Google maps, or if our earlier walks just didn’t need more waypoints than that.

Without being able to tweak the route to match what we were going to do, I just entered points of interest for each of the corners of our walk, then fiddled with them a bit until I saw that we were at 20.1 miles. Then I figured we could just adjust it on the fly. It almost worked.

The route was pretty similar to our longest walk of last year, except that we’ve decided to carry our lunch on the trail, so we skipped the leg to Milo’s Restaurant. We walked to the Olympic Monument near Parkland College, then to Busey Woods (via downtown Champaign and Crystal Lake Park), then to Meadowbrook Park, where we had our lunch at the Prairie Viewing Platform. (We paused shortly after to get the above picture of us posing with the giant rabbit sculpture.)

The other place I particular thought we ought to stop was Triptych Brewery, which we’d never made it to before, even though they’ve been there for a year. (We go almost right past it several times a week—in particular, when she walks home from taiji class, Jackie passes just three or four blocks away—but always in the morning when it seems a little early for beer, and anyway they’re not open.)

It wouldn’t be a long walk from Meadowbrook to Triptych, if you wanted to walk along Windsor Road, but that sounded unpleasant. Instead we hiked north up Race and then cut across through married student housing and the arboretum, took Hawthorn through the research park, crossed the railroad tracks at St. Mary’s, and then headed back south on the Boulware Trail. That probably added a good mile to our route.

We made it to Triptych around 4:00 PM. The joint was hopping, which was good to see. They had about 10 beers on tap. Jackie had a honey basil blonde ale, which she liked very well. (The honey and basil were very subtle, she said.) I had their dry Irish stout, which was also excellent.

As we were passing through the research park, we’d calculated the distance we were going to end up walking (because of her walks from taiji, Jackie knew just how far it would be from Triptych to home), and we knew we were going to come out over our planned 20 miles. But we really wanted those beers, so we decided to just take the most direct routes and hope for the best. And it worked out fine.

The first 5 miles over our previous very long walk was no problem. After that, things got kinda tough—we were tired and footsore—but there was never a point where we worried that we might not make it. If you’re interested, Endomondo has the GPS track and details. (Ignore the altitude data. When the phone loses the GPS signal, it often inserts a point with an altitude of zero. However, no point in Champaign County is at sea level.)

In my report last week on our previous very long walk, I mentioned that my plan for after the 20-mile hike would be a 25-mile hike. Almost as soon as I’d posted that, I realized that obviously our next hike should be 26.2 miles. Duh.

The Illinois Marathon passes just a few blocks from our apartment. The closest point is very near the midpoint of the race.

I grabbed the map off their website, and figured we could just walk to the nearest point, pick up the route there, walk it until the finish line, cross over to the starting line (just a block or two from the start) and then carry on until we get back to the midpoint, and then go home.

It’s not a plan yet. More of an intention. Maybe just a notion.

Today we’re going to rest, have a mother’s day lunch with Jackie’s mom, and take her out for something fun. Maybe a walk in the woods, or maybe (if the predicted rain arrives) to the art museum.

This year’s long walks

Jackie and I have gotten back to our very long walks.

Last Saturday we went to Lake of the Woods and cobbled together their 5-mile prairie trail and their 3.3-mile bike path (together with a couple of jaunts down maintenance roads) into an 11-mile hike. (My goal had been “more than 10 miles.”)

It was great.

The prairie was full of these bluebird houses that had been occupied by tree swallows.

tree-swallows

The tree swallows daunted me briefly; I don’t remember having seen the species before (although I must have). I spent the whole prairie phase of our walk staring at them, thinking “They’re not bluebirds. They’re not indigo buntings. They’re not purple martins,” over and over again.

I’m sure they weren’t the only interesting species I saw, but they’re the only one that comes to mind now, a week later.

We parked near the Museum of the Grand Prairie, and ate our snack in the botanical garden, which brought to mind the day Steven and I bicycled to Lake of the Woods, which I’d remembered as last year, but which turns out to have been in 2011.

I’d earlier gotten a picture of Jackie and me at the picnic table where we’d later have our snack. I like to think of it as a modern reinterpretation of the Victorian portrait.

jackie-phil-victorian-portrait

Yesterday we did a longer hike. My goal this time was “more than 15 miles,” and we each hit it, although we separated around mile 13, after swinging by the Student Union in time for me to attend my Esperanto meeting. Jackie went on home after drinking some iced coffee. I stayed to speak some Esperanto, then walked on through the water amenities, downtown Champaign, and West Side Park.

Along the way we passed the university’s Agronomy building. We’d passed it a year ago, and I’d neglected to get a picture of the name over the door, and very much regretted it ever since. So this time I made a point of pausing for a photo-op:

agronomy buildingI like the harvest iconography on each side of the name. Very handsome.

To do the whole 33.5 miles during daylight, we’re going to have to set a pretty good pace.

Last summer we did okay when we didn’t have to spend too much time fiddling with things. (It’s surprising how many things need to be fiddled with on a long walk—socks, boot laces, packs and their contents, water bottles and the refilling thereof, intersections both with and without pedestrian walk signals. The list is all but endless, and on more than one hike it seemed like something needed to be fiddled with on virtually every mile, such that we’d get home and look at our speed and remember, “Oh, yes. That mile was slow because we stopped to get a snack, and that mile was slow we had to reapply suntan lotion, and that mile was slow because we stopped to use the restroom. . . .”) When we didn’t stop to fiddle with something, we often finished a mile in not much over 18 minutes, even late in a hike. However, even when we hustled right along, we never broke 18 minutes all summer long.

Last week we did do a sub-18 minute mile, and when we started out yesterday, our first mile came in under 18 minutes again. We were pleased with ourselves and decided to pick up the pace a bit more, and managed to beat our time for the second mile, and then again for the third. By then we were all warmed up and covering a stretch of the route where there was almost no interaction with traffic, so we decided to push the pace a bit more, and managed to do a sub-17 minute mile, which is pretty darned fast walking.

Here’s the Endomondo track of my version of the walk (Jackie’s is the same until we separated along about mile 13):

Up to now, we’ve pushed the distance rather quickly, since we’re just recovering distance that we were doing easily enough last summer. Our next walk, which will be around 20 miles, will be a new “longest walk ever” for each of us. After that, we’ll want to do perhaps 25 miles in late May and then the same (perhaps slightly more) in early June. I think that’s as long of a training walk as we’ll need to do. The whole point is to make 33.5 miles a special effort, something that would be undermined by doing the whole distance in training.